The nine families, who came to Nuh (Haryana) from Punjab after losing jobs following Covid-induced lockdown, seek protection from police harassment
New DELHI — Nine Rohingya families recently staged a sit-in in front of the offices of the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, in Delhi demanding protection. They alleged the police forcefully evicted them from their shelters in Nuh, Haryana.
Among the refugees, forty-two in number, were seven women, including a pregnant lady and a lactating mother and twenty-five minors.
After two days of sit-in amidst cold weather, the officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees furnished them with letters that urged authorities to provide them assistance. The officials also convinced the refugees to wind up the sit-in. But when the refugees returned to Nuh on Thursday, Rohingya activists said, the police arrived in the camp and “started harassing them again.”
According to the refugees, there was a police inspection in the camps in Haryana on January 25, and they were asked to produce their identity cards issued by the UNHCR. During the verification process, the officials asked a few families to leave the camps immediately because they had done their biometric enrolments elsewhere in India, and not in Haryana.
“We came here from Punjab to seek shelter with our relatives, as we lost jobs in Punjab since the lockdown started. The aid we get from the humanitarian organizations is hardly sufficient. The UNHCR officials never told us that we could not move to other places within the country. So, we came to Haryana out of sheer economic desperation,” a protesting refugee informed.
Even after they showed their refugee identity cards to the authorities, the police kept coming back to the camps, and repeatedly threatened the families to vacate their makeshift tents.
The refugees said last week the police visited their jhuggis (tents) four times and tried to evict them forcefully.
“The day before yesterday, when I was out for work, they brought female police personnel with them who beat up my wife with a cane,” alleged an elderly Rohingya man.
Another man pulled up his shirt to reveal multiple bruises on his body. “When I heard the police were beating people up, I told my children to run away immediately and hide. A policeman caught me and beat me up violently,” the man recounted. “We had no idea what wrong we di.”
He said he has been living in India since 2012. “I have worked day and night to keep my family fed, safe and educate my children so they can have a better future than ours. But the police were not letting them live peacefully. “They would not listen to anything; they kept abusing us, telling us to go back to whatever place we came from, or there would be dire consequences,” he recounted.
Desperate for help, the refugees tried to call representatives of ActionAid, the implementing partner of UNHCR, but their mobile numbers were unreachable, they said.
Unable to receive help from anywhere, the families then went to Nuh district court, where they were allegedly shoved and manhandled by the police. “They detained us in a small space for a long time, with no water or toilet facilities. I had my three daughters with me, two of them are infants, and they started crying because they were hungry. A policeman came and shouted at me because I could not make them stop.” a woman refugee said.
Police in Nuh denied allegations of violence. “If another 1,500 refugees are still living there must be a reason for that,” a police official from Nuh said. “Why do these refugees not go to their original camps.”
They ultimately decided to march to the UNHCR office in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar. But they failed in getting to the office as police chased them away. Then they converged at UNHCR’s registration office in Vikaspuri. Here again the gates were shut on them. But they waited for two days.
“We were told that no officials were present in the office, as most of the work has shifted online due to COVID,” said a Rohingya volunteer who tried to help the victims. “Most of the mobile numbers provided by the guards were found to be switched off. After repeated attempts, the volunteers were able to reach the UNHCR helpline number, and were informed that meetings between the authorities were underway.”
After two days of sit-in the UNHCR officials handed out letters to the protesting refugees on Wednesday who then shifted to Shaheen Bagh camp in Delhi and then moved to Nuh. But they said they fear they would be harassed
The purpose of the identity documentation issued by the UNHCR is to provide the refugees with identification proof that demonstrates their refugee status. It also reduces potential risks associated with their identities, such as detention and refoulment. Moreover, it aims to help them access education and healthcare services and rights to seek employment and freedom of movement within the host country.
However, the Rohingya refugees living in India allege they are increasingly facing problems in accessing the labour market, education, or essential healthcare services. Most of the Rohingyas work as contractual labourers with meagre pay and no job protection.
Like other marginalized communities Covid-19 pandemic struck Rohingya hard.